As Belgium gear up to take their early Euro 2016 frustrations out on Ireland, it has emerged Everton striker Romelu Lukaku could be culled from the side which lost their opener to Italy on Monday.
Marc Wilmots has vowed to make a couple of changes for the match in Bordeaux which Belgium are expected to win and kickstart their pursuit for a first major trophy with a group of players Martin O’Neill rates as the best of any nation at the tournament.
Ireland’s Everton contingent of Seamus Coleman, James McCarthy and, possibly, Aiden McGeady were due to square up against their Toffees teammate Lukaku but Divock Origi, Chelsea target Michy Batshuayi and Liverpool’s Christian Benteke are also battling for one of what will likely be two berths in attack.
Lukaku, one of many players with the Red Devils squad subject to transfer speculation, drew a blank in the 2-0 opening defeat, squandering Belgium’s best chance against the Azzurri.
Needing goals and points, Wilmots has suggested changes in the forward line form part of his strategy to inflict damage on Ireland’s ambitions of progressing from the pool.
“Ireland will be another match and a different context,” said Wilmots, who spent a year of his playing career at Bordeaux.
“It is in our DNA to entertain, push forward and create chances.
“That’s my preferred style and have no intention of changing. Just because we lost once doesn’t mean there has to be panic.
“I have four good options up front. After I watch a replay of Ireland’s game against Sweden, I will decide the strikers that best fit the profile of what we need to win on Saturday.”
Lukaku will probably figure at some stage, even from the bench, but rather than lavish praise on his Everton colleagues, he highlighted the threat of James McClean from the flank as a ploy the Belgians must negate.
“McClean can make a difference from the left, with his runs and crosses, so it’s going to be difficult and we have to be wary of that,” noted the 23-year-old.
“Ireland have some very experienced strikers in Robbie Keane and Shane Long. Defensively, Ireland are also very strong.”
Simon Mignolet is unlikely to dislodge Thibaut Courtois, despite the Chelsea goalkeeper enduring some shaky moments in the opener, but having worked under Martin O’Neill at Sunderland, his knowledge of the Irish squad is invaluable.
“Like us, Ireland will see this game as one they can win,” admitted Mignolet. “I know this not just from their manager, coach Steve Guppy and goalkeeper coach Seamus McDonagh were with me at Sunderland but because I come up against a lot of their players in the Premier League.
“Ireland will face us with a solid base and shouldn’t be underestimated by our supporters.
“But, individually and collectively, Belgium have more quality in the squad. Once we show that, I think we’re capable of winning.
“Although we lost against Italy, at least the defeat didn’t come after the group stage and knock us out.
Having the match against Ireland just a few days later is exactly what we need.”
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